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You can’t draw a safe House seat for a Republican Tricia Cotham in Mecklenburg

 Rep. Tricia Cotham explains her party switch at a Wednesday press conference in Raleigh.
Steve Harrison
Rep. Tricia Cotham explains her party switch at a Wednesday press conference in Raleigh.

Tricia Cotham’s decision to leave the Democratic Party and become a Republican unleashed a firestorm.

This article — which appeared first in my weekly newsletter, Inside Politics — will look at her political future once the flames die down a bit. What are her chances to remain in the House in 2024? Or will she run for something else — like Congress?

Let’s start with her current seat, District 112.

It covers Mint Hill (where Cotham lives) and much of east Charlotte:

 Most of the votes in Cotham’s current district come from heavily Democratic east Charlotte.
NC Board of Elections
Online results map
Most of the votes in Cotham’s current district come from heavily Democratic east Charlotte.

The map is a little confusing because Cotham won the blue precincts in November when she was a Democrat. But as a Republican, her base would now shift to the four red precincts. But those red precincts don’t have nearly as many people.

President Biden won the district by more than 20 percentage points; Cotham won it by 18.

It’s unwinnable for a Republican, Cotham included.

But — let’s look at three outs she may have.

1. The General Assembly is planning to draw a new House map this summer.

Republicans believe the current House and Senate maps are gerrymanders in favor of Democrats in Mecklenburg. The House map clearly favors Democrats in 12 of 13 seats; the Senate map favors Democrats in all five seats contained inside the county.

So Republicans will try to give themselves more opportunities to win in Mecklenburg, starting with Cotham’s seat.

A redraw would likely start with the four Mint Hill area precincts that are red. The new seat could run to the southwest, picking up Matthews and staying as close to the Mecklenburg-Union County line as possible.

It would resemble the old seat held by Republican Bill Brawley, who lost in 2018 to Rachel Hunt. The district will be a little smaller because of population growth, since the county is now divided into 13 seats instead of 12 seats last decade.

Here is what the old Brawley seat looked like:

NC Board of Elections
Online results map

2. The N.C. Supreme Court could overturn the Stephenson precedent from the early 2000s.

But the problem for Cotham is that the seat isn’t safe. Hunt won in 2018. And areas around Matthews are becoming more blue, not less.

Drawing a seat that favors a generic Republican by a few percentage points would still put Cotham in a precarious position, considering bitter Democrats will be willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars (perhaps even $1 million+) to defeat her.

(Running for a state Senate seat in Mecklenburg is even harder for a Republican. Because the districts are larger geographically, they are going to include more Democrats by nature. Just look at the at-large seats on the Charlotte City Council and County Commission, which Republicans can never crack anymore.)

The Stephenson case maintained a “whole county provision” that requires map-makers to keep counties intact, when possible.

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Mecklenburg County today has 13 House seats that all fit inside the county. If the new conservative court overturns or loosens Stephenson, House Republicans could pair Mint Hill with precincts in Union County and make a solid red seat.

The court heard arguments earlier on the constitutionality of the state’s political maps. The case had already been decided by the court last year — when it had a Democratic majority — but the new Republican-majority court agreed to reopen the case.

Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer said it’s possible the court could undo or weaken Stephenson when it rules later this year.

“If the Supreme Court buys the Independent State Legislature Theory, which it sounds like (Chief Justice) Paul Newby wants to, that may then turn Stephenson on its head,” Bitzer said.

3. Cotham could forget the General Assembly and run for something else.

Cotham, who is a former assistant principal at East Mecklenburg High, has been floated as a candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction. That job is currently held by Republican Catherine Truitt.

Or, she could run for another Council of State seat.

And there is Congress.

In 2016, Cotham ran — and lost — in the Democratic primary for a special election in the 12th Congressional District.

Republican lawmakers are going to redraw the state’s Congressional map this summer, in addition to making new state House and Senate maps. It’s assumed that Democrat Jeff Jackson’s seat in Mecklenburg and Gaston will be radically changed, going from blue to red.

House Speaker Tim Moore is the presumptive candidate who would snap that seat up. Would he step aside for Cotham?

Or would there be another wildcard, like an incumbent Republican deciding not to run?

If she does run for Congress, the problem for Cotham is that other Republicans are not going to roll over for a lifelong Democrat.

In a Republican primary, Cotham would have a good narrative of “owning the libs” with her defection.

But she could be savaged by other conservative candidates pointing to her well-documented pledges to support abortion rights and protect the LGBT community.

City Council member Bokhari: Country clubs lift people out of poverty

In a discussion about the city budget and tax rate Thursday, City Council member Tariq Bokhari said he’s concerned about media coverage about the decrease in tax valuations of golf courses, including WFAE stories like thisand this.

“This is a distraction,” Bokhari said. “This is not the main event.”

He said the public should be focused on how the city sets its tax rate — a decision that will have a much greater impact than whether Quail Hollow Club is valued at $20 million or $10 million.

He also said that some clubs contribute to the tax base through sales taxes when they host events.

And he added that the clubs are: “A place where a lot of young kids — myself included growing up — got opportunities to play and learn a sport that lifts people out of poverty and into upward mobility.”

Politics County commissioners call country club valuations 'nauseating' and 'unfair' Ely Portillo

Charlotte City Council: We need a regional buy-in for transit. Also Charlotte City Council: This is our transit system, we know best.

To revive Charlotte’s ailing $13.5 billion transit plan, city leaders have a new buzzword: Regionalism.

The idea is to get support from surrounding counties for a regional transit plan, bringing a unified front to Republicans in Raleigh.

But regionalism is hard — especially when your regional partners want you to do something you don’t want to do.

S eve ral weeks ago, the Metropolitan Transit Commission — a regional board of all Mecklenburg municipalities — voted unanimously for the city to hire a third-party consultant to investigate problems with the Charlotte Area Transit System. The MTC said it wanted the city to quickly issue a request for proposals, which means the group wanted someone from the private sector.

 Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles (center) misrepresented what Mecklenburg Commissioner Leigh Altman said at a March 23 MTC meeting.
Steve Harrison
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles (center) misrepresented what Mecklenburg Commissioner Leigh Altman said at a March 23 MTC meeting.

The city instead said it would ask the Federal Transit Administration to expedite a scheduled review that’s supposed to happen in 2025.

City Council member Ed Driggs said: “It was a resolution they passed with a request to us. So then it’s up to us to decide how to respond to the request. They don’t have the authority to require that, so we are taking the action that is appropriate.”

At a council meeting last week, council member Renee Johnson asked why the city wasn’t doing what the MTC asked.

Mayor Vi Lyles interrupted her to set the record straight: “I’m going to say words really matter. I want to make sure that I send out to you the actual motion from the MTC. It did not say a third party or an RFP.”

But that’s exactly what Mecklenburg Commissioner and MTC member Leigh Altman’s resolution asked for.

“My motion will be to move that the MTC adopt a resolution requesting that a third-party transit consultant perform an operational investigation,” Altman said in the previous meeting.

She went on to say that would include the derailment, a failure to inspect bridges on the Lynx Blue Line and a failure to buy buses in a timely manner.

“I further request that the resolution provide that an RFP for this work go out on an expedited basis and the consultant report back to the MTC on an expedited basis.”

Will the MTC push back — or accept the city’s plan?

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